2019 was a really busy year for me. The day job got more demanding, a lot of friends and family got married, and I did most of my traveling for reasons other than attending world-renowned music festivals. I still got out there and reviewed as many concerts as I possibly could though, covering a good amount of the Hip-Hop that hit Toronto this year. In terms of Hip-Hop, 2019 was definitely dominated by the underground and the old school, with plenty of legends celebrating album anniversaries and indie artists grinding out intimate, small-venue shows and supporting the local scene. It was a fun-filled, action-packed year with plenty of artists to see perform live. As we always do, here’s a look back at the Top 10 best concerts of the year!
Click here to check out 2018’s Top 10.
(All shows were in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted)
*Indicates a show I did not write a review for
Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):
Earl Sweatshirt at Rebel Nightclub
Nitty Scott at Adelaide Hall
Snoop Dogg at Rebel Nightclub
Nas & Mary J. Blige at Budweiser Stage
¡Mayday! at The Grand Gerrard Theatre
Reel Wolf at The Grand Gerrard Theatre
Jidenna at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
La Coka Nostra at Starlight Social Club in Waterloo, ON
Rittz & Dizzy Wright at Adelaide Hall
10. Tyler, The Creator at Scotiabank Arena
2019 has been the biggest year of Tyler, The Creator’s career. His album IGOR has led to him topping the charts, earning more Grammy nominations that could potentially lead to him winning his first award, and of course the biggest concert tour of his life (so far). Scotiabank Arena is of course the second-biggest venue in the city, and is where most pop stars go to perform when they come to town; now Tyler has become big enough to join their ranks. Seeing Tyler evolve from performing at nightclubs to now having an arena budget at his disposal has been great. He’s able to fully execute his artistic vision with his stage design, incorporating imagery from his “Earfquake” music video while also including a grand piano, moving platforms and pyrotechnics. There are fundamental pros and cons of performing in a large venue versus a small venue, but as a long time fan who’s been to the smaller shows, it’s dope as hell to see these flames shoot off for some of Tyler’s more energetic tracks.
9. Common at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Common’s Let Love Tour this summer was my first time seeing him perform a full set, and despite him having the reputation of one of the greatest emcees to pick up a mic, he still exceeded expectations with this performance. With a live band backing him, he didn’t have any surprise guests during his set, and he absolutely rocked the crowd all on his own like a true professional. Never mind spitting every bar of every verse perfectly in pocket, Common made this an ultimate fan experience, running through his years of classics and interacting with the crowd regularly. His DJ and band would flip the beats on classic songs in ways that were mind blowing (like swapping the John Mayer sample with Lady Gaga on “Go“), and Common himself blew away the fans with the way he would freestyle off the top, rapping about things that were happening right there in the moment. Add in an unexpected breakdance cypher during his encore, and you can say Common definitely left it all out there on the stage, further backing his legacy as one of the greatest.
8. Choclair at The Rec Room Square One in Mississauga, ON
Imagine going to a sports bar and watching one of your hometown major league teams win a trophy, and then having one of your hometown legends immediately set off the celebrations with a live performance while the trophy ceremony and post-game press conference is still playing on the jumbo screens. That’s exactly what happened at The Rec Room Square One when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference Finals, eventually leading to their first NBA Championship, and Choclair took the stage for a performance that was booked weeks in advance. Choclair was doing a series of concerts celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut album Ice Cold, but in light of the Raptors’ playoff success, this show became free for everyone who came to watch the game. Performing his string of hits from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Choclair made this night a celebration of Toronto excellence, as we jammed out to some classic Toronto Hip-Hop to celebrate the Toronto sports history being made in the present.
7. Shad at Toronto Jazz Festival – Bloor Street Stage
Our first outdoor summer music festival of the year had a great atmosphere. Raptors fever was still in the air after the massive championship parade just a few days prior, and everyone was in a good mood at the Hip-Hop meets Jazz segment of the annual Toronto Jazz Festival. Backed by DJ T.Lo along with some live drums and keys, the North’s own Shad headlined the show and hit his quota for at least one concert in the city every year, performing a familiar set list full of Canadian classics. For those who couldn’t catch him on the road last year promoting his latest album, A Short Story About A War, Shad mixed a few new joints into his set list while also incorporating new Championship Raptors references into classic verses. Even the guys opening for the hometown vet were dope enough to steal the show, as Oddisee and his band Good Compny traveled all the way from Washington D.C. just to rock this festival. With supreme synergy with his band, Oddisee performed with exceptional stage presence to get the crowd moving, and was just as worthy as Shad to be a headliner.
6. Bastid’s BBQ at Sterling Road Parking Lot*
I’ve been waiting years for the timing to work out for me to attend one of DJ Skratch Bastid’s annual BBQ jams, and it finally happened in 2019! While my schedule was still too tight to write an in-depth review at the time, I still had a blast as it lived up to all expectations. There was great food, cold beer in the summer heat, and dope performers hitting the stage to create an all around fun atmosphere. Highlights included DJ Rob Swift of the X-Ecutioners putting on a turntable clinic, emcee Greg Nice rocking the mic, Amsterdam DJ Jaël bringing the Euro party vibes, and Haviah Mighty putting on a dope performance just weeks before she would become the first rapper ever to win a Polaris Prize for her album 13th Floor. The top performance of the night though had to be Masta Ace & Marco Polo, performing in Toronto for the first time since they released their album A Breukelen Story together. It was the first time ever Ace and Greg Nice were at the same concert together and able to perform their 2001 collab “Don’t Understand,” and of course Stricklin was there to hype the crowd up, jumping off stage to spit some verses while surrounded by fans. I’d go to this event every year if I could.
5. Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
This could have gone down as the last ever Toronto concert Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko did together, as later in the year Krizz reportedly contemplated leaving Strange Music to pursue his own path, but thankfully decided to sign a new contract and keep the wheels rolling. The duo have been performing together on stages for over twenty years, and the chemistry they’ve built together over those years puts them among the best performers in Hip-Hop history. As always, Tech & Krizz showcased elite stage presence with their choreography and vocal abilities, taking the fans through years of underground hits while slightly switching up the set list to perform more rarities. While Tech N9ne has been consistently touring and performing in Toronto on a bi-annual basis, he has such a deep catalogue of music to pull from that makes every show different, and his consistent output of new music means he keeps bringing out new fans every year. It’s always a blast to see Tech & Krizz Kaliko rock a stage, and they always have some sharp spitters opening for them too, this show including dope local artists from Toronto’s Reel Wolf and Raw Dog Entertainment.
4. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals at Echo Beach
Anderson .Paak has become a superstar with the full package. He has the mainstream appeal with critical acclaim behind his albums, and he’s the ultimate showman when he gets on stage to perform. He touches every part of the stage throughout his show, performing from behind his drum set on a levitating platform, taking the front of the stage solely on the mic, and even jumping down onto the beach to dance in the crowd with his fans. This concert was the second time he hit Toronto in 2019, after selling out Rebel Nightclub in February, then releasing his new album Ventura and going on a second tour with extra momentum. With each of his albums literally named after California beaches, Echo Beach has to be the best Toronto venue to see Anderson .Paak perform live, and there’s no telling how many more times we’ll get to see him here as his star power continues to rise.
3. Beast Coast at Echo Beach
While Pro Era, The Underachievers, and Flatbush Zombies have each been building up their brands individually over the last decade, 2019 saw them join forces to form the supergroup Beast Coast, releasing the album Escape From New York and going on a world tour together. We’ve seen Joey Bada$$ put on some incredible concerts over the years as a solo artist, but seeing him share the stage with these eight other emcees in this setting felt like witnessing the height of his powers. He’s always been able to get crowds to mosh and turn up just like this crowd did, but all the extra stops he and Beast Coast pulled out made this feel like a special event. From the rollout of CJ Fly, Nyck Caution, Kirk Knight, and The Underachievers each performing individual sets before being joined by the rest of the Beast Coast crew, to the intricate stage design that allowed them all to effectively share the space and make unique entrances every time they did a posse cut, the execution of this show was top notch. The crowd at this show was the most energetic out of any concert on this list, sometimes even a little too energetic with violence breaking out, but Beast Coast’s performance was epic regardless and the Escape From New York Tour will be remembered as a special moment in their careers.
2. MattyFest at Echo Beach
Toronto celebrity chef Matty Matheson’s inaugural MattyFest wasn’t without its hiccups, but overall was a successful, fun-filled event. The part food festival part music festival had an eclectic lineup of artists performing on two stages at Echo Beach, and had plenty of food vendors spread out throughout the festival grounds serving up specialty dishes. For Hip-Hop heads, the highlights were seeing Danny Brown perform live about a month ahead of releasing his fifth album, uknowhatimsayin¿, and the entire Wu-Tang Clan (minus U-God and Cappadonna) headlining the festival, returning for a second Toronto date on their 25th anniversary tour after doing a free show in late 2018. Seeing the legendary Wu-Tang Clan never gets old, as their catalogue runs so deep that you’re bound to see rare album cuts get performed for the first time, even if you’ve seen the Clan perform multiple times. This festival got criticized heavily for selling their “Matty Money” tokens for food even after the food supply ran out, and only changing their policy on refunds at the end of the night, but if you showed up early to experience the entire festival then this was a non-issue, and the concert itself was incredible.
1. Public Enemy Radio at Beer Fest – Bandshell Park
They did it again – Toronto’s Festival of Beer put on the best Hip-Hop concert of the year! As always, the Friday night of the weekend-long festival was dedicated to Hip-Hop, and they filled it with legends to perform. Despite Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun not being able to cross the border into Canada, heads got to party with some Hip-Hop royalty all evening, as Toronto pioneer Michie Mee kicked things off, and was followed by Philly legend DJ Jazzy Jeff, Wu-Tang’s own Raekwon & Ghostface Killah, Heltah Skeltah’s Rockness Monsta, and Public Enemy Radio (PE minus Flavor Flav) celebrating the 30th anniversary of their classic album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Between the iconic Hip-Hop legends being celebrated on stage and the usual setup of having hundreds of beer samples being served all throughout Bandshell Park on a sunny July day, this was the perfect concert atmosphere that felt like Hip-Hop Heaven. Raekwon & Ghostface performed a set list of deep album cuts and rarities they don’t always get to do when they’re with the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan, Rockness brought back memories of the late Sean Price with his Heltah Skeltah tribute, and Public Enemy took us through years of their historical classics. Toronto’s Festival of Beer has established a great track record when it comes to booking Hip-Hop artists for their Friday night, and they have never let us down.
Tickets for TFOB 2020 are already on sale at beerfestival.ca – get ’em while early bird pricing is still in effect!
What were some of your favourite concerts of the year? Let us know on social media below! Happy New Year to all!
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.